UK Politics

Miliband faces AV referendum questions

Ed Miliband
Image caption Ed Miliband is a keen supporter of AV, but no fan of Nick Clegg

There are many in Labour circles who believe Ed Miliband would be well advised to keep his head down during the AV referendum campaign.

They argue that there is little for Labour to gain and it would be better to focus on a decisive victory in May's council elections.

Mr Miliband, however, has long been a supporter of AV and believes he should speak out as a matter of principle.

His belief is that, while the alternative vote system is not perfect, it could pave the way for further significant constitutional reform, including a fully elected House of Lords.

It is also important, he believes, that Labour should be on the side of change and not the status quo.

The trouble is he is shouting into a strong head wind of Labour opposition and all the signs are that many Labour supporters are inclined to vote no simply in order to damage Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a supporter of AV.

Rival campaign

Mr Miliband's party is deeply divided over electoral reform with many of the old big beasts in Labour's ranks, figures like Lord Prescott, David Blunkett and Margaret Beckett, firmly opposed to scrapping first-past-the-post Westminster elections.

Many of the big unions, including those who backed Mr Miliband for the leadership like the GMB and Unite, are also opposed to change. This despite the fact that it was an AV system that ensured their preferred candidate was able to overhaul his brother David in the Labour leadership contest.

To compound Mr Miliband's difficulties, on the very day he launches the Labour "Yes" campaign, more than 200 Labour MPs and peers have launched a rival Labour "No" campaign.

Significantly their ranks include three members of the shadow cabinet: Mary Creagh, Caroline Flint and John Healey.

But Mr Miliband's difficulties are not confined to his own ranks.

He also faces an awkward dilemma over his relations with the Liberal Democrats.

Attempts to stage a joint platform appearance with Mr Miliband and senior Lib Dem figures like Charles Kennedy fell apart amid much mutual finger pointing and recrimination.

Mr Miliband's people say they would happily share a platform with any Lib Dem - except Mr Clegg - but so far it has been impossible to reach any agreement and no date has yet been set for any cross-party platform.

Privately some in the Yes campaign fear such bad blood risks undermining one of the key plans of their campaign, namely that AV would encourage a more cooperative, inclusive and less tribal form of politics.

Given all these difficulties, some Labour figures are predicting that Mr Miliband's role in the AV campaign is likely to prove brief and decidedly limited.

Much better, it is argued, that the Labour leader should focus on a strong result in the local council elections than risk becoming embroiled in a politically awkward and difficult referendum campaign.

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